“My brother took me to a Bugged Out rave in Liverpool, I think,” ponders the mild-mannered JOHN HECKLE, as he scratches his chin, revelling in nostalgia. “I fell asleep on the stairs leading up to the cloakroom at about five in the morning because I’d never been up that late.” Liverpool’s untapped connoisseur of techno earnestly recalls his first encounter with electronic music at the tender age of thirteen. Not surprisingly, the romanticism of rave sub-culture hooked the impressionable Heckle harder than he could have ever predicted – and forward to this blank canvas of a room above MelloMello to discuss the origins of his cosmic tapestry of electronics.
Influenced by his older brother, John was besotted with electronic music after that aforementioned brush with the heady charm of techno and intrigued by its unconventionality. His idealised perception of rave culture along with his newfound penchant for house and techno soon turned this loose affinity into a resounding obsession. Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, John extended his interest immediately.
“Me and a friend went to this little record shop called X-Fade – or Cross-Fade maybe – the week after Bugged Out,” he reflects as he squints in further recollection. “At first, I started buying Dave Clarke and British Murda Boys records, then there was Sergio and Regas; just loads of techno; I guess it just sort of snowballed from that point onwards.”
Already an avid record collector of vinyl by the age of sixteen, John’s duality in stock piling classic house and industrial records laid the groundwork for his unusual tendency to amalgamate these opposing genres within his early outputs. However, his meticulous, rough-around-the-edges electronics is indebted to an external influence he sought to emulate with an almost uncanny precision.
“I drew all of my influences through listening to Jamal Moss because, before I’d heard any of his music, I was listening to basically straight-up techno,” John explains. “Then a friend showed me some of his [Jamal Moss’s] records, so then I started buying all of his Mathematics stuff.”
He continues to elaborate on his attempts to re-create the music of Mathematics Records label boss Jamal Moss during the production of Life On Titan, his 2011 debut EP on the same imprint. A cosmic affair littered with diced-up electronics, jacking smooth rhythms and heavy overtones of Chicago-tinged house. This homage to one of the Chicago house music scene’s defining producers would have gone unnoticed, if it wasn’t for an impromptu trip to watch his hero perform live for the first time.
“I was a massive fan of the label and at the time he never played in the UK at all. I saw he had a gig in Belgium, so me and a friend got a flight over,” John recites, nodding enthusiastically. “I had a Mathematics T-shirt on and I was just bladdered off my face. So I went up and said ‘I’ve come over from Liverpool’; I only spoke about two words to him,” he laughs, pausing for breath. “Then when I got home I sent him a message on MySpace saying ‘I was the guy with the Mathematics T-shirt on’, and he listened to my music from there – and the music I sent him ended up being the first EP, Life On Titan, for Mathematics.”
This seminal release unveiled John’s uncharted talent, allowing him to fulfil a potential he never thought he possessed as he cites the collection of tracks that ended up on Life On Titan as “failed copy records of Jamal Moss”. But his suspense-inducing build of jaunty house hooks and nasal gazing analogues turned out to be as powerful as they were profound. Releasing his debut EP on the label he idolised wasn’t something John took for granted.
“It was completely unreal; to have the person who I was then obsessed with music-wise offer me a contract was amazing. It was an absolute dream come true.”
His sophomore EP Fourth Dimension soon followed the mighty Titan, moving from caustic, unsettling jaunts to palatable jazz wonderings. Then in 2012 his debut full-length album The Second Son saw him depart even further from the dance-floor into previously unmapped territory. Veering towards the dysfunctional, he lets his whims get the better of him and derails from the Chicago-house throwbacks of old. And this is where we touch down in the present, as we draw ever closer to his performance at one of Liverpool’s flagship house and techno club-nights, mUmU. “It’ll be cool, yeah; I haven’t been booked to play in Liverpool for about three years now so I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to it.”
John remains as uncategorisable and elusive as ever, shying away from the frivolous labelling of genres. Now recording tracks for his second full-length album, due for release on Tabernacle Records later this year, the wide array of instruments he has at his disposal will no doubt be a consistent feature in his production.
“I’m just a bit nerdy about it; I like to collect instruments. I like the idea of getting a piece of 20 or 30-year-old equipment that someone used to make this classic piece of music – and trying to do something totally different with that same equipment; I think that’s quite interesting,” he explains.
Currently working part-time, John is poised to launch his music career full-time as he’s due to depart on a tour of Europe following his performance at mUmU. But despite the praise he’s garnered over the past couple of years, the humble technocrat is keeping his feet firmly rooted to the ground.
“If I lived anywhere else I don’t know whether I’d get as much music done; I even like my job and the people I work with. I’m quite happy where I am. I’m home.” An endearing sentiment, sure, but John Heckle’s scintillating spacecraft of sonics is only just breaking the stratosphere – and, with co-ordinates set way beyond the vicinity of our solar system, there’s no telling where he’ll make port.